Former goalkeeper Alex Bono set to welcome Toronto to Audi Field in MLS season opener
Toronto FC fans will see a familiar face Saturday when Toronto opens the MLS regular season at D.C. United.
Alex Bono, who holds TFC records for goalkeeper wins (67) and shutouts (35), will be wearing opposition colours.
"What are the odds?" said Bono, referencing hosting his former team in the season opener at Audi Field. "Obviously it's exciting. I'm happy to see some old friends and compete against them."
The 28-year-old from Baldwinsville, N.Y., stands seventh in all-time Toronto appearances in all competitions at 158 (third among active players behind captain Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio).
A superior shot-stopper, Bono also became one of TFC's most articulate voices. And he was hard to miss — walking the length of the field as he chatted with his father on the phone was a pre-game ritual at BMO Field.
"There's not much that can really cloud the good memories and the good moments," Bono said of his eight seasons in Toronto.
"I'm grateful for the time that I spent there, for the memories I have and the experiences and the growth that I had there," he added. "My Dad told me when I was younger, "Every year you improve or you get worse. There's no stagnant, there's no staying the same.' And I think that really holds true in the world of sports … From a personal standpoint, I just try to make it so every season I feel better about my game, I feel better about who I am and what I stand (for) and what I do in the time I spend with who matters most."
Bono and Quentin Westberg, who had shared the starting job in Toronto since 2019, were allowed to move on after their contracts expired in the wake of a disappointing 2022 season that saw Toronto tie a franchise worst by conceding 66 goals.
On Dec. 14, Bono signed a two-year contract through 2024 with D.C., with an option in 2025. Nine days later, the 36-year-old Westberg joined Atlanta United for the 2023 season.
Toronto's defensive woes in 2022 can't just be laid at the feet of the two 'keepers, as evidenced by the fact that Toronto coach Bob Bradley recruited two new centre backs (Matt Hedges and Sigurd Rosted) and a fullback (Raoul Petretta) in the off-season.
The three newcomers are expected to join incumbent fullback Richie Laryea in front of Sean Johnson, the new Toronto No. 1 'keeper. After a lengthy courtship, Toronto signed the New York City FC free agent in late January on a deal that runs through 2024.
Whether Bono plays Saturday remains to be seen. D.C. coach Wayne Rooney, who also has Tyler Miller and Luis Zamudio as options in goal, has been coy about who will start.
"I think all three goalkeepers have done well," Rooney said Thursday. "It's important that you have competition for places. That's not just goalkeepers, that's the outfield players as well.
"I've been pleased with all three of them," the former England star added. "And if I'm being honest I'd be confident in putting any one of the three in."
If Bono knows the starter, he isn't saying.
"We'll see what happens come Saturday," he said diplomatically. "But I feel like all three of us had a great pre-season. All three of us have pushed each other in the right direction and I'm excited to see what we can accomplish as a goalkeeping group and as an organization this year."
Miller is looking to regain a starting spot after losing the No. 1 job in Minnesota to Canadian Dayne St. Clair. Zamudio signed in October from D.C.'s USL Championship affiliate, Loudoun United FC. He had seven shutouts and 103 saves across 27 starts for Loudoun last season.
The club opted not to retain 13-year veteran Bill Hamid, a free agent who holds club records in both clean sheets (89) and saves (976).
D.C, used four 'keepers last season. Hamid played just 10 games before going down with a hand injury. Fellow 'keepers, Rafael Romo (14 games) Jon Kempin (two) and David Ochoa (nine) have also left the club.
The 32-year-old Hamid, D.C.'s first homegrown signing from its youth academy in 2009, is unattached. Ochoa has since signed with Atletico San Luis in Mexico.
"I feel fortunate that D.C.'s given me an opportunity to continue playing and continue progressing in my career," Bono said.
Toronto and D.C. finished bottom of the league last season with Toronto (9-18-7) finishing seven points ahead of D.C. (7-21-6). D.C. conceded a league-worst 71 goals.
Bono said he got his wish of wanting his club future settled before Christmas. He and his girlfriend Bianca celebrated news of his signing while on vacation in the Bahamas.
While Bono spends most of his time training with goalkeeping coach Diego Restrepo, he has enjoyed his time under Rooney to date.
"He's been great … He's a really awesome guy," Bono said. "He's really family-oriented. It's important to him that we're a close, tight-knit team, that we're all working together. And his philosophy of the game is interesting. It's different from what I've experience before but it can definitely have a way of being successful. I really think that we have some good players here that can unlock that and he can really turn this club and bring it in a really positive direction."
Bono chuckled when asked about that Rooney philosophy, offering only a peak.
"We're a team that wants to play. We're a team that wants to have possession. We're a team that wants to win the ball in good places. Just like every team is," he said. "Some things never change, just the way that teams go about it is different from A to B."
Bono is wearing a new number at D.C., given that midfielder Jackson Hopkins already had possession of No. 25. Bono, who wore that number with both TFC and Syracuse University, has moved one down to 24 which he wore in high school.
Bono was taken sixth overall by Toronto in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, outlasting fellow goalkeepers Joe Bendik, Chris Konopka and Clint Irwin during his time with the club.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press